The How and Why of Tungsten Carbide Inserts, and a Factory Tour

It seems a touch ironic that one of the main consumables in the machining industry is made out of one of the hardest, toughest substances there is. But such is the case for tungsten carbide inserts, the flecks of material that form the business end of most of the tools used to shape metal. And thanks to one of the biggest suppliers of inserts, Sweden’s Sandvik Coromant, we get this fascinating peek at how they’re manufactured.

For anyone into machining, the video below is a must see. For those not in the know, tungsten carbide inserts are the replaceable bits that form the cutting edges of almost every tool used to shape metal. The video shows how powdered tungsten carbide is mixed with other materials and pressed into complex shapes by a metal injection molding process, similar to the one used to make gears that we described recently. The inserts are then sintered in a furnace to bind the metal particles together into a cohesive, strong part. After exhaustive quality inspections, the inserts are ground to their final shape before being shipped. It’s fascinating stuff.

Coincidentally, [John] at NYC CNC just released his own video from his recent jealousy-inducing tour of the Sandvik factory. That video is also well worth watching, especially if you even have a passing interest in automation. The degree to which the plant is automated is staggering – from autonomous forklifts to massive CNC work cells that require no operators, this looks like the very picture of the factory of the future. It rolls some of the Sandvik video in, but the behind-the-scenes stuff is great.

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Lathe Headstock Alignment: Cutting A Test Bar

Let’s say you’ve recently bought a lathe and set it up in your shop. Maybe you’ve even gone and leveled it like a boss. You’re ready to make chips, right? Well, not so fast. As real machinists will tell you, you can use all the levels and lasers and whatever that you want, but the proof is in the cut. Precision leveling gets your machine in the ballpark (machinists have very small ballparks) but the final step to getting a machine to truly perform well is to cut a test bar. This is a surefire way to eliminate any last traces of twist in the bed.

There are two types of test bars. One is for checking headstock-to-ways alignment, which is what we’re doing here. There’s another type used for checking tailstock alignment, but that’s a subject for another day.

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Rolling Out a Slick Rotary Phase Converter

Home machinists can often find great deals on used industrial equipment, and many a South Bend lathe or Bridgeport milling machine has followed someone home. Then comes the moment to plug it in, and the new owner discovers that the three-phase plug needed to power the new beast is nowhere to be found in the shop. Thus commences the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

Luckily, [Handmade Extreme] is ahead of the curve in terms of shop power, and built a rotary phase converter to power his machines. Industry generally runs on three-phase AC systems, mainly because three-phase electric motors are so much more efficient and compact than the equivalent single-phase motor. But residential electrical service is either split-phase or, in the UK where [Handmade Extreme] is based, single phase. A rotary phase converter is an electromechanical device that can generate the missing phases – in essence a three-phase motor that can run on one winding and generate the missing phases across the other windings. It needs some supporting control circuitry to do so, such as timers and contactors to switch the winding connections once the motor starts, plus capacitors for motor starting and for balancing the voltage across the phases. The control gear is DIN-rail mounted and neatly wired to a smart-looking control panel. Everything is housed in a sturdy enclosure that’s big enough to serve as a mobile tool cart. It’s a really nice job – watch the whole build in the video below.

If you’re interested in power distribution, we’ve got a primer that covers the basics. And if you’re in the market for machine tools, [Quinn]’s machine tool buyer’s guide will let you decide if a three-phase machine is worth the extra effort.

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The Machinists’ Mantra: Level Thy Lathe

Let’s say you’ve gone and bought yourself a sweet sweet metal lathe. Maybe it’s one of the new price-conscious Asian models, or maybe it’s a lovely old cast iron beast that you found behind a foreclosed machine shop. You followed all the advice for setting it up, and now you’re ready to make chips, right? Well, not so fast. Unlike other big power tools, such as band saws or whatever people use to modify dead trees, machine tools need to be properly level. Not, “Hurr hurr my carpenter’s level says the bubble is in the middle”, but like really level.

This is especially true for lathes, but leveling is actually a proxy for something else. What you’re really doing is getting the entire machine in one plane. Leveling is a primitive way of removing twist from the structure. It may not seem like a huge piece of cast iron could possibly twist, but at very small scales it does! Everything is a spring, and imperceptible twist in the machine will show up as your lathe turning a couple thousandths of taper (cone) when it should be making perfect cylinders. All this is to say, before making chips, level your lathe. Let me show you the way. Continue reading “The Machinists’ Mantra: Level Thy Lathe”

Preparing For A Lathe: How to Move 3000 Pounds of Iron

You say to yourself, “Self, I want, nay, need a lathe”. Being a good little trooper, you then did all your research, having chosen Import or American, Imperial or Metric, and all your feed options and such. You then pulled the trigger and the machine is en route to your shop. Now what?

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Wireless Charger Gives a Glimpse into Industrial Design Process

Almost every product on the market has been through the hands of an industrial designer at some point in its development. From the phone in your pocket to the car in your driveway or the vacuum in your closet, the way things look and work is the result of a careful design process. Taking a look inside that process, like with this wireless phone charger concept, is fascinating and can yield really valuable design insights.

We’ve featured lots of [Eric Strebel]’s work before, mainly for the great fabrication tips and tricks he offers, like how to get a fine painted finish or the many uses of Bondo. But this time around, he walks us through a condensed version of his design process for a wireless phone charger and stand. His client had specific requirements, like being able to have the phone held up in landscape or portrait mode, so he started with pen and paper and sketched some ideas. A swiveling cylinder seemed to fit the bill, and after a quick mockup in PVC pipe, he started work on a full-size prototype in urethane foam. There are some great fabrication tips in the video below, mainly centered on dealing with not owning a lathe.

The thing for us with all of [Eric]’s videos, but especially this one, is seeing the design process laid out, from beginning to (almost) the end. He sure makes industrial design look like a cool gig, one that would appeal to the Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades who hang out around here.

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A Buyer’s Guide to Lathe Options

Lathes are complicated machines, and buying one requires weighing a lot of options. We’ve already talked about buying new Asian, or old American machines (with apologies to the Germans, British, Swiss, and all the other fine 20th century machine tool making-countries). We also talked about bed length and swing, and you ain’t got nothin’ if you ain’t got that swing. Let’s talk about the feature set now. If you’re buying new, you’ll shop on these details. If you’re buying used, knowing the differences will help you pick a good project machine.

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